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Program has kids group up to learn about special needs

‘Universal access’ playground serves as a venue for children of all abilities to have fun together.

November 30, 2007|By Angela Hokanson

Jun Hwang, a 12-year-old at Monte Vista Elementary School, was a bit nervous when he arrived at Hansen Dam Recreation Area in Lake View Terrace on Thursday to spend the morning with students from College View, a Glendale school for kids with special needs.

Jun said he had never spent much time with children with disabilities before, and he was a little scared. But after Jun learned that he and his buddy-for-the-day, 11-year-old College View student Shane Proffitt, shared the same birthday month, he felt more comfortable.

Shane, Jun and Garrett Leum, an 11-year-old Monte Vista student, spent part of Thursday morning on the swing set at the Hansen Dam “universal access” playground, which is specially designed for children with disabilities. Jun and Garrett learned that Shane likes the color red and loves to swim.

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“He’s having a blast,” Daniel DiMundo, a sixth-grade teacher at Monte Vista, said about Jun.

Students from Monte Vista and College View were brought together through Shane’s Inspiration, a Van Nuys-based nonprofit organization that builds playgrounds with the needs of disabled children in mind, and offers programs to support the use of those playgrounds. Shane’s Inspiration is named for Shane Alexander, the son of Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams, who co-founded the nonprofit after their son died from spinal muscular atrophy only a few weeks after he was born in 1997.

The play session with students at the two schools was part of the nonprofit’s “Together, We Are Able” program, a disability-awareness initiative in which students with disabilities are paired with students without disabilities to promote interaction and understanding, said Marnie Norris Fisher, the director of programs at the nonprofit organization.

Shane’s Inspiration is working with schools in the Glendale Unified School District for the first time this year, Norris Fisher said. The organization recently received a grant from the Rose Hills Foundation that will allow Shane’s Inspiration to offer programming to schools in Glendale, Pasadena and Alhambra. Shane’s Inspiration assists the schools by providing transportation to playgrounds and doing presentations with the participating general-education students both before and after the integrated field trip, Norris Fisher said.

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